DAWN - Opinion; November 01, 2006

November 01, 2006


What next in Afghanistan?

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

THE situation in Iraq is deteriorating. An exit strategy — in essence to find a face-saving way to “cut and run” — will probably surface in the report that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary James Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton will publish a little after the conclusion of the mid-term elections to be held on November 7.

There is now little doubt that in these elections the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives, and, possibly, of the Senate too. In this changed political scenario, not only will there be a rush to get out of Iraq, there will also be increasing clamour to find a similar way out for the Americans and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

In Iraq, an important part of the exit strategy will be a conference of regional powers and direct talks between the US and Iraq’s two pariah neighbours, Syria and Iran, to seek their assistance in whatever stabilisation programme the Americans advocate. This will be a bitter pill to swallow for the neo-conservatives of the Bush administration. But they will be persuaded that the realities on the ground and political pressure exerted by a Democrat-dominated Congress would permit no other choice.

Whether these two countries will agree or not is open to question; and whether they have the influence to be able to deliver is even more uncertain. Sectarian strife has created divisions within Iraq’s tribal society that will not be easily bridged. But if some measure of assent is won from Iran and Syria on the basis of concessions in other areas, the Americans will be able to justify their withdrawal and will then leave the Iraqis to their own devices. This may well mean that the Iraqi scenario will duplicate the scenario we had in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal — civil war, exacerbated by interference from Iraq’s neighbours, each with its own perspective of how Iraq should be governed.

In Iraq, the problems arose because of a whole series of mistakes. These included inadequate troop deployment, the virtual dismantling of the administrative structure in the name of de-Ba’athification, disbanding the Iraqi army, the pro-Shia and anti-Sunni bias of the Paul Bremer administration, rejection of UN proposals for a government of technocrats, acquiescence in a constitution heavily loaded against the interests of Sunnis, tolerance of Shia militias, turning a blind eye to the corruption of Iraqi officials and politicians, etc.

Above all, it was the initial neglect of nation-building and subsequently the corruption in the awarding and execution of contracts for reconstruction which, along with security problems, ensured that the Iraqi people have less access to electricity, clean water and sewerage facilities than in the days of Saddam Hussein.

In Afghanistan, the same mistakes were made and compounded by the diverting of American attention and resources to Iraq, the benign or malevolent neglect of the Pushtun-majority areas in the south and east and the dubious alliances with warlords to facilitate the search for and the destruction of Al Qaeda. In the five years that have passed since the American moved into Afghanistan, the Pushtun belt has seen little development and growing insecurity.

Under the patronage of US- and Kabul-supported warlords, the people there have become the world’s largest producers of opium and masters of smuggling banned goods to Pakistan. These are the principal sources of livelihood. High unemployment makes it easy for the Taliban to recruit people for their ranks, particularly when monetary incentive can be combined with an appeal to serve the cause of Islam.

In Iraq, there are probably very few areas — mostly in the Sunni-majority area of central Iraq — where there are demands for the return of Saddam’s dictatorial regime. But, in Afghanistan, it seems that the plurality, if not the majority, of the Pushtuns are nostalgic for the days of the Taliban. As Taliban rule is now recalled it is felt that the limitations on civil liberties and the imposition of Islamic law after coming heavily under the influence of Al Qaeda’s Arab brigade, were not very much more constraining than the conservative traditions of the Pushtuns or even those of other ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

There was little development but there was security. Arbitrary decisions were taken by the Taliban but there were no extortions by the warlords. There was fighting with the Northern Alliance but there were no bombing raids in which innocent civilians died. There was interference by Afghanistan’s neighbours, there was an inordinate influence exercised over Mullah Omar by Osama and his Arab brigade, but the perception that the rulers in Kandahar were handmaidens of foreign masters did not exist.

In Afghanistan, therefore, whatever the circumstances that existed in 2001, today the situation is even worse for the coalition forces there than in Iraq. The warlords, many of them represented in the Afghan Wolesi Jirga, have a vested interest in the perpetuation of instability which will permit the continued cultivation of opium — the principal source of illicit revenue in Afghanistan. Many of them, along with smugglers of other goods, have an alliance of convenience with the Taliban and Taliban supporters in Pakistan.

In the border areas of Pakistan, radicalisation encouraged during the anti-Soviet jihad and then during the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan has now taken firm root. The authority of the tribal maliks and the “white beards”, who traditionally provided leadership and administration in these unruly areas has now been marginalised. The radical agenda is to bring Taliban-like rule to Pakistan, and they are well aware that this cannot happen unless the Taliban succeed in establishing a measure of control over at least the Pushtun areas of Afghanistan.

These are factors that will have to be borne in mind when the Americans plan their strategy for withdrawal from Afghanistan. These are the dangers with which Pakistan will have to contend.

For the Americans, the withdrawal will represent a major setback. It will erode their international standing. It will be a blow to their global war on terrorism.

They may and probably will retreat into an isolationist mode and seek to fight the war on terrorism by additional internal measures.

These, of course, will include new restrictions on Muslim immigration and heighten suspicions of and alienation from American Muslims. The American way of life will be affected in some measure. All of this will be a heavy price but one that the Americans may be prepared to pay to get out of their present predicament.

For Pakistan, however, the costs will be far higher. The longer the Taliban can keep the border areas of South and East Afghanistan unstable, the greater the influence they will acquire in the adjoining Pakistani areas. The longer this happens the more the forces of obscurantism will be strengthened in Pakistan’s fractured polity and the slimmer the chances that the current effort at reconciliation in the tribal areas will lead to the weakening of the radicals and the re-emergence of the traditional “malik/white beard” power structure. Also, the longer this happens the greater the chance that misguided perceptions of Pakistan’s national interest will persuade the powers that be to shift the current ambivalence in our Afghan policy in the wrong direction. Will Pakistan then be able to survive within its present borders as a progressive, moderate Islamic state?

If “enlightened moderation” continues to be our goal we should canvas strongly in Washington and with the European visitors expected in Islamabad in the next few weeks that America and Nato remain in Afghanistan until the Taliban menace has been curbed. As much as the Afghans, we must persuade our friends in Nato that more troops need to be deployed in Afghanistan and more military personnel shifted to the south and southeast where the battle against the Taliban is raging. There are reports, probably no more than bombastic propaganda, that this year the Taliban will not observe the usual winter break in fighting because they believe that they are close to breaking the will of the Nato military, even more, the will of the Nato political leadership. I believe, however, that there will be a lull in the fighting. We should suggest that the time should be utilised to renew the Karzai offer of amnesty and offer all our efforts to persuade moderate Taliban elements to respond positively after getting guarantees that the amnesty will be faithfully and fully implemented.

We should hasten the process of holding jointly with President Karzai a number of jirgas of all tribes straddling the Pak-Afghan border, and demonstrate, even as we pursue a political agreement in the tribal agencies, that such reconciliation will not mean giving the militants a free hand and that we perceive it to be in our own interest to curb the militants even when their declared intent is to fight only in Afghanistan.

It is to be hoped that the Monday morning attack on the militant training camp in Bajaur will be seen as giving the lie to the charges that political agreements in the tribal agencies have been concluded to allow for an escalation of cross border infiltration and for increased attacks on coalition and Afghan forces. We must also be prepared to deal with the storm that could result as the ruling party in the NWFP seeks to portray this as an attack on loyal Pakistani Islamic scholars.

We should also note that it is the members of this party and their sympathisers who fuel suspicions about Pakistan’s policy. In a recent article, a New York Times contributor, Elizabeth Rubin, mentions her interview of M. Yusuf Qureshi, the prayer leader at the Mohabat Khan mosque in Peshawar and the director of the Deobandi madressah, the Jamia Ashrafia. He reportedly told her that he meets President Musharraf twice a year and that when he asked the president “what are you doing” he replied that “I’m moving in both ways. I want to support the Taliban, but I can’t afford to displease America. I am caught between the devil and the deep sea.” He opined further that “I think they want a weak government and want to support the Taliban without letting them win.”

Such incendiary statements are not designed to improve the president’s image or that of Pakistan. Given that this appeared in the first instalment of the article in the New York Times Sunday magazine on the October 22, a strong contradiction should surely have appeared by now, not only in the New York Times but also in our local media.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The bane of domestic violence

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHILE lawmakers in Pakistan are still grappling with the challenge of humanising — if not actually striking off from the statute book — the ghastly Hudood Ordinances, India’s parliamentarians have moved much faster to provide protection to their women.

A new law, described as “landmark” by observers, has been adopted by the Lok Sabha and has come into effect to protect women from domestic violence. It also bans harassment for dowry and empowers a magistrate to issue protection orders where he feels they are needed.

Domestic violence, defined as violence that takes place within the confines of the home and in private, has for long been a major problem that women have had to face in practically every society. It refers not only to the singular act of “wife-beating”, or worse still, of physical violence resulting in injury or threat of violence that has to be addressed. Even more devastating is the continuous pattern of behaviour that causes the man — or his family — to attempt to exercise control over a woman by resorting to physical, emotional, psychological and economic abuse.

Given the similar cultural background of South Asian societies in terms of the status of women, India has indeed taken a bold step by adopting this law. In Pakistan, where women face a similar problem the PPP-P had introduced the Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill, 2005, in the National Assembly early last year. This bill, which is underpinned by extensive research, is designed to rectify the lacunae in the law by recognising domestic violence as a crime. But as was not unusual for our parliament, the Speaker sent the bill summarily to “the relevant committee”, which is a euphemism for shelving something indefinitely.

Interestingly, the bill when it was brought before the House created an uproar when the parliamentary affairs minister, Mr Sher Afgan Niazi, opposed it on the grounds that “the Quran permits wives to be beaten” and, therefore, the bill on domestic violence is not Islamic. He was probably referring to the 54th ayat in Surah Nisa although this has been interpreted unanimously by enlightened scholars “as deprecating any sort of cruelty, even of the nagging kind”.

In most oriental societies where women are not highly educated and they internalise their subordinate status, they do not like to disclose the violence they have to suffer. A survey held in India reported that as many as 70 per cent of wives are beaten by their husbands, yet 56 per cent of Indian women believe that this behaviour is “justified in some circumstances” which vary from “going out without the husband’s permission to cooking a bad meal”.

The situation appears to be worse in Pakistan where domestic abuse is often denied by the victims themselves. The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, states that “over 90 per cent of married women report being kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were dissatisfied by their cooking or cleaning, or when the women had ‘failed’ to bear a child or had given birth to a girl”.

It is not just the fact that domestic violence is shrouded in silence and concealed in the privacy of the homes that makes it so worrisome. The laws in force are also insufficient to protect vulnerable women. Thus a woman who undergoes physical violence is not provided any legal redress until she is actually harmed physically, that is, suffers “grievous hurt”. This would mean that she should actually lose a limb or an eye/ear, suffer permanent disfigurement of the face, have a fracture or dislocation of a bone or a tooth.

Even when violence has taken place and the matter is reported to the police, the attitude of the law enforcing agencies is to hush up the case and advise the parties to resort to reconciliation. They treat it as a “domestic issue” in which they cannot intervene.

The draft bill provides a protective mechanism in the form of the protective officer who is notified by the government for each police station and should not be below the rank of inspector and should be a person of known integrity. He will determine the gravity of a case and immediately intervene in the matter and assist the victim to obtain medical assistance if needed and facilitate her shifting to a safe place of her choice. He will also help her obtain a protection order from the court. He will report the case to the family conciliation council which will be set up under the bill by the DCOs. The council’s function will be to attempt to resolve the intra-familial disputes amicably. This is important in view of our cultural milieu and socio-economic compulsions. The victim can obtain a protection order from a magistrate if she feels threatened.

This law, though sensible in its approach, may not see the light of day, given the mindset of a large number of our legislators. While the struggle goes on at the legislative level, it would pave the way for change if women’s rights activists launch a campaign to create awareness about domestic violence. There is need to educate men about the rights of a woman as a human being and do away with the prejudices and biases inculcated in them over the centuries.

But women also have to be told more about their own rights and the phenomenon of domestic violence . Since it has been shrouded in secrecy and the issue is not publicly discussed, it is not generally acknowledged and evokes mixed emotions. Victims are known to feel anger against their oppressor and also a sense of hurt apart from the physical pain that is inflicted on them. But paradoxically they also suffer from a feeling of guilt, as though they are responsible for the violence inflicted on them.

What is badly needed is marriage counselling facilities which hardly exist in this country. The solution of the problem does not lie in breaking up rickety marriages that abound in our society and thus disrupt the institution of the family. It would be more sensible to provide counselling to men and also women to teach them how to live together in peace and harmony and take care of their family. That is the only social support system our society has to offer and it should be developed into a healthy and thriving institution. Domestic violence always negates this aim.

The unending gender bias

By Hafizur Rahman

AN article about working women that I read recently in an Indian journal really made me sit up and think. It said that a few years ago a Christian community in South India got a woman priest for the very first time in the country’s history.

The momentous event took place in Kerala where the percentage of literacy is the highest in the subcontinent. The state thus has the largest concentration of enlightened women — and enlightened men.

According to the journal, another momentous event had followed soon after in Mumbai where the first woman railway engine driver took up her duties after training. Thus in two widely divergent fields, technical and ecclesiastical, the women of India were making their mark.

One mentions progress in India with some hesitation. You never know from which quarter some elements may start protesting that merely by talking about India’s advancement we are insidiously accepting the hegemony of an unfriendly neighbour, and that public thinking in Pakistan too was now being guided from New Delhi.

One may recall that during her first stint as prime minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto was accused of selling off Pakistan to Rajiv Gandhi when he was her counterpart in India. On the other hand, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s policy of easing tensions with our hostile neighbour, and his invitation to PM Vajpayee to come to Lahore by bus, was not given that twist.

We have plenty of mindless hawks in Pakistan but I don’t think PM Shaukat Aziz’s conciliatory statements about India are going to earn him any bad marks from them or from anyone else.

It is really amazing. The late General Ziaul Haq used to focus his attention on Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, sometimes through what came to be known as cricket diplomacy and sometimes by exhibiting a broadminded attitude towards matters like the loss of strategic posts in Siachen. His political admirers never protested against his Indophilia; one does not recall their indignation or even a mild protest.

But if Benazir were to look at a map of India, they were up in arms. “The country is being sold out to the enemy” and “Pakistan’s identity is being smothered” was the reaction. What would you call this? Contentious and prejudiced politics?

Shorn of the adjectives, the word politics just about covers every unprincipled action and reaction. If the psyche of the people of the subcontinent is the same all over, and if, at one time, the burning issue in Pakistan was whether Islamic democracy permits a woman to become prime minister, then the whole of India should have been in turmoil, with everyone debating whether the Hindu dharma permits a woman to drive a railway engine or not.

The country should have been seething with a dispute over assigning such a duty to a lady. Its press, its intellectuals, its politicians all should have been in passion with full-throated arguments for and against female drivers of locomotives.

Not only this, there should have been processions and public meetings and male engine drivers picketing the loco shed in Mumbai asking that Ms Bhonsle be prevented from entering an exclusively male preserve.

Since nothing of the sort happened, one can only deplore the lack of national self-respect and a proper attitude towards women on the part of Indians.

Although it is eleven years now since Ms Benazir Bhutto first took up the mantle of prime minister and public opinion was sought to be aroused to a frenzy against a woman head of government, why didn’t her opponents take any practical steps to prevent her from doing so?

All those male politicians, who thought at that time that only they could sit at the PM chair, should have been picketing at the prime minister’s office in order to stop her.

Picketing is a pseudo-legitimate means of registering protest and nobody would have condemned it. In any case, Ms Bhutto held the office twice but lost a good opportunity that is rarely enjoyed by a woman politician. For, apart from the loss of a personal privilege, she deprived Pakistan of the distinction of becoming a liberal society and practising a democracy with idealistic notions of popular representation.

The Indians, having had Ms Indira Gandhi as PM for so long, do not seem much bothered about a woman engine driver or a woman priest. Also, let our wise men ask themselves what Britain lost by having Mrs Margaret Thatcher as PM for full ten years. So, what is it to us?

But since we are neighbours, and since we wish our eastern neighbours well despite its hostility towards us, let me warn India that the rot has started and will not end with women engine drivers and female priests.

Look out for the time when a woman dares to don the dress of a ‘shastri’ and conducts a marriage ceremony. Or next we will be hearing that the Hindu society has decided to tolerate a woman in any position. It seems that there is hardly any field left now without women playing a role.

Maybe the turn of the armed forces comes next. Iran, after the Islamic revolution, got female soldiers. Perhaps what we need in Pakistan is an Islamic revolution of that kind.

If we are not sensible enough to accept the fact that a woman is as much intelligent and imbued with qualities of leadership as a man, then we shall have to take other people’s testimony for it.

Science and social progress have proved that men and women are the same everywhere, except for their religious faith and social customs and some physical characteristics, whether they live in California or Yemen or Mongolia.

Only they are affected by local conditions. Otherwise it is simply a question of opportunities. If we close our eyes to this fact, we shall be acting like ostriches. There is another point too — if we are backward in thought, let us at least not exhibit our ignorance.

Tackling climate change

ECONOMISTS regularly argue that the best way to tackle climate change is to put a price tag on the environment. As it happens, in recent weeks a bidding war has broken out over the issue — not in dollars or carbon trading futures but between Britain’s major political parties.

In contrast to political debates on migration, for example, this bidding war is a virtuous one, a race to the top rather than the bottom, as the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour seek to burnish their eco-credentials. The fruits could be seen on the front page of this newspaper last week, in the government’s plans for a climate change bill that will set out long-term targets for cutting Britain’s carbon emissions, perhaps as early as the Queen’s speech to parliament next month.

The change in the political climate has been as eye-opening as the environmental damage being revealed by scientists. After some initially glacial progress, parties are now moving quickly. For Labour the abrupt policy shift dates from Tony Blair’s decision to add climate change to the combined G8 and EU agendas of last year.

For his part, David Cameron has transformed a party whose previous environmental policies had been marked by scepticism and bandwagon-jumping on the road fuel tax protests of 2000 (all the more shameless since the protests were aimed at the fuel escalator first introduced by a Conservative government as a sensible environmental measure).

Yet so far the debate has, to paraphrase, been tough on carbon but not on the causes of carbon. Will the government’s new climate change bill contain significant measures? Time is short and ministers are still working on the detail — Tony Blair would not even confirm that the bill will appear in the Queen’s speech. But the fact that David Miliband, the environment secretary, is able to hurry such a bill into place at this late stage says a lot about the serious political positioning going on.

More important, at this stage, than the detail of the bill is the framework it erects, specifically the horizon it uses for cutting emissions. Groups such as the Friends of the Earth favour year-on-year cuts, arguing that annual targets maintain focus and responsibility. But the new bill is said to offer a series of 10-year targets — the danger being that governments will punt the hard decisions it involves too far into the future, cramming cuts into the last year or two of a decade.

Ministers say they are concerned with cumulative emissions as much as final targets — and so they should be. Whatever the timeline, a climate change bill that fails to include a sophisticated mechanism to lower the trajectory of emissions as well as set targets would be foolish — and a gift to an opposition which claims the government is over-cautious.

The other environmental bidding war going on at the moment is a Dutch auction in which geologically suitable local authorities vie to become home to Britain’s pile of highly toxic radioactive waste. The government has wisely — given the lack of alternatives — adopted a recommendation of the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management that “host communities” be invited to apply, in return for a reward in the form of social and infrastructure investment.

— The Guardian, London